The latest ‘Economic Freedom of the World’ report by Canada’s Fraser Institute has ranked South Africa at 85 out of 144 countries, a rise from a ranking of 91 in the previous year.
The Free Market Foundation executive director Leon Louw said that the outlook for South Africa seemed positive and that the higher ranking indicated a return to the economic freedom seen in the first decade of the transition to democracy.
Economic freedom as defined in the report comprised, besides others, personal choice, voluntary exchange, freedom to compete and security of property, and the countries surveyed were ranked across five variables.
South African earned an overall score of 6.75, up from 6.49 in 2011. In the individual categories, the country scored 5.52, up from 5.02 in 2011, for the size of its government, while South Africa’s legal system and property rights score jumped from 5.44 to 5.70.
The country scored 8.18, a rise from 7.92 last year, for its access to sound money. Its score for the regulation of credit, labour and business category increased from 7.10 to 7.21. The freedom to trade internationally rose from a score of 6.95, to 7.16 in 2012.
Meanwhile, Russia, Brazil, China and India – South Africa’s Brics counterparts – ranked at 95, 105, 107 and 111 respectively, for economic freedom.
Hong Kong topped the rankings with a score of 8.9, followed by Singapore at 8.69, New Zealand at 8.36, and Switzerland at 8.24.
Australia and Canada achieved scores of 7.97, both ranking at fifth place. Bahrain, Mauritius, Chile and Finland also ranked in the top ten freest economies.
The US, which the Fraser Institute says was long considered the standard bearer for economic freedom among large industrial nations, fell to its lowest ranking at 18, after achieving tenth place in 2008 and second place in 2002.
“The US, like many nations, embraced heavy-handed regulations and extensive overspending in response to the global recession and debt crises. Consequently, its level of economic freedom has dropped,” Fraser Institute VP of international policy research Fred McMahon said.
Venezuela ranked the lowest, with the least economic freedom, with Myanmar, Zimbabwe, the Republic of Congo and Angola in the bottom five.
Louw commented that countries with high levels of economic freedom had greater prosperity and more political and civil liberty, while the lowest-ranking countries offered a lower quality of life for citizens.
The report pointed out that the nations in the top quartile of economic freedom had an average per-capita gross domestic production of $37 691 in 2010, compared with $5 188 for the bottom quartile nations.
The highest-ranked countries’ poorest 10% had an average income of $11 382, compared with an $1 209 in economically unfree countries.
The life expectancy in the top quartile is also higher than that of the bottom quartile at 79.5 years, compared with 61.6 years.